Exploring Colonial Mexico©

The Espadaña Press Web site

Homepage | Archive | Publications | OrderingYucatan | Oaxaca Map

Santo Domingo de Oaxaca 

This grand former priory, the mother house for the Dominican order in Oaxaca and the largest Dominican establishment in Mexico, has long been famous for its ornate church, one of the crown jewels of Mexican colonial architecture and decoration. Founded in the 1570s, the early monastic buildings were repeatedly damaged by earthquakes. The present heavily buttressed church was not completed until the mid-1600s, but its sober baroque front, anchored by massive towers, gives little indication of the opulence within.

The rich interior dates from the late 1600s and early 1700s, among the first and most complete baroque interiors in Mexico. The earliest section is probably the well known polychrome relief of the Lineage of St Dominic 1, which spans the underchoir. Based on the biblical Tree of Jesse, this spectacular ceiling shows members of the Guzman family sprouting like blossoms from its spreading branches. This appealing masterpiece of Mexican popular art is among the earliest examples of painted stuccowork in the Pueblan baroque tradition.

The under choir is also richly surfaced on all sides with painted and gilded relief (3). Above the choir, a soaring dome features numerous Dominican saints and and martyrs rising in bands to the Virgin of the Rosary at its apex (2). Several ornate side chapels line the nave, all faced with ornate gilded stucco relief (4), leading the eye to the sumptuous main retablo (a modern replica) at the east end (5).

Other decorative highlights of the church include the semicircular nave vault, encrusted with ornate stucco reliefs illustrating the Marian Mysteries; the richly gilded pulpit (6) and the Rosary chapel on the right side. The last chapel to be completed, in the 1720s, the Rosary Chapel is almost excessively ornate, its numerous saints, nuns and friars lost in a profusion of cherubs, shells, arabesques and intricate scrolls and strapwork. The retablo of the Virgin (7) is perhaps the most satisfying element here.

 

1

 

2

 

4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6

 

3

 

5

7 

The Ex-Convento

The priory is also noted for its magnificent convento with multiple cloisters and surrounding conventual galleries, which house superb collections of colonial and pre-Columbian art and artifacts. Renovation of the former convento and its galleries, better known as El Centro Cultural Santo Domingo, a massive project that has been going forward since 1994 under the auspices of INAH (Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia) and several other national and state agencies, is now complete.

A major task for the multi-disciplinary team of architects, archeologists and conservators was the successful restoration of 6000 sq. meters of vaulting throughout the priory. The museum and its refurbished galleries have now reopened. Other installations planned within the convento precincts include the Burgoa Library, with extensive Dominican archives, a monastic ethno-botanical garden, and a conference center.


top